Monday, July 29, 2013

Learn from The Newspaper Entrepreneurs

The audience for newspaper readers has been in decline for years. Last year I moved to Orange County, California after eight years in Arizona. 

In Arizona, I took the Arizona Republic. One rare day in the desert, it rained and I called the Republic for a replacement paper. The customer service person explained, “We let our replacement team go several months ago. We can either bring a replacement tomorrow or credit your account.” I was not interested in receiving today's newspaper tomorrow.

This week my Sunday newspaper didn't show up so I called the Orange County Register customer service department. They promised that I would have a replacement newspaper within the hour. Indeed, I had it. Also they promised to call me and check to see if I got the replacement newspaper. Later that morning, they called and I reported that I had my newspaper and thanked them. What a different customer service experience.

Last Friday I learned why my local paper is expanding it's coverage and customer service—plus the newspaper is growing in circulation. As I've read this newspaper for a year, I've noticed new sections of the paper and new magazines. As this article validated the numbers

3: New daily newspapers including The Current in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, the Irvine World News and the Long Beach Register (launches Aug. 19)

25: Expanded broadsheet weeklies

22: New stand-alone sections, which include a daily Business section, Faith & Values, Fashion, OC Family, Food, Go+Do, Movies, Wheels, Celebrations, OC Varsity twice-weekly sports sections and OC Varsity Arts

3: New magazines including OC Register Metro, OC Register Family and OC Register Magazine

350: New employees, of whom 175 are in the newsroom (my emphasis)

71 percent: Increase in daily content from May 2012 to May 2013

162 percent: Increase in weekly community content from May 2012 to May 2013

25: Average increase in pages daily”

Ironically I noticed both of the new owners are not from the newspaper industry. Each made their careers outside of the newsroom—yet they and other investors have invested in the local newspaper business.

As a writer and communicator, I've seen the merits of marching to a different drum some times and pitching innovative ideas. Sometimes you fail when you try something new. Yet sometimes with these risks you break out and do something that becomes a bestseller.

Are you striking out into some new directions to see if the door of opportunity will open for you? I hope through a careful reading of this article, you can see some valuable lessons for your own writing life. 

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Book Signings

As a long-time publishing professional, I love a good story. Over the next few days, I'm reading Daniel Silva's The English Girl. I'm a long-term fan of Daniel Silva's writing and have read all of his other books. Former President Bill Clinton has called Gabriel Allon (the lead character of Silva's books) one of his favorite fictional characters

Daniel Silva is one of the authors where I'm subscribed to his newsletter and follow his posts on Facebook. He writes one riveting, page-turning thriller a year. Last week he was on the Today Show talking about his new book and other books that he's recommending. His wife, Jamie Gangel, is a Today Show correspondent. 

Several weeks ago I was interested to see Sara Nelson, Editorial Director for Books at Amazon.com on CBS This Morning talking about the must-read books for the summer and the first book that she recommended was The English Girl.

About three years ago, I met Silva at a book signing at the Poison Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. Like a true fan, I attended his talk about his latest novel and then stood in line to get my book signed.

I've been watching for The English Girl. Daniel Silva goes on tour with his book each time it releases. He goes to specific bookstores where the sales register on the New York Times bestseller list. I expect his book to be near the top of the hardcover fiction bestseller list next week (as it has in past years).

Because I read his newsletter, I noticed in late April or early May when Daniel offered his readers to purchase a signed copy of the forthcoming book. Since I knew I would not be near one of the bookstores on his forthcoming tour, I pre-ordered my book from Barnes and Noble over two months before the release date. Books like Daniel Silva's novels are embargoed—which means the bookseller has strict instructions from the publisher not to release the book prior to the actual street release date.

I was excited to receive my signed copy last week and The English Girl is another page-turner with excellent storytelling. I want to point out the difference in the two signed copies of Daniel Silva's books.

The first signature is personalized to me because I was standing right in front of Daniel at the Poison Pen. It's also on an inside page of the book. Here's that signature:

My second signature came last week in The English Girl. Notice there is no personalization with my name and that instead of an inside page, the signature is bound to the first page of the book. It is a real signature because I can see the pen marks slightly on the back of the page. I'm unsure how they did it but my suspicion is that Daniel Silva signed a number of these pages, then shipped the signed stack back to the printer who “tipped” them into the book for these books. Here's how this signature appears:

Each version of these signings are special to me and I'm a delighted reader of Daniel Silva's books. I'm looking forward to spending a bit more time completing my reading of The English Girl. Because his normal pattern is to write one book a year, I will have months to wait until the next one.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

On Being A Writer, On Being a Christian

It's an honor to have Bret Lott as a guest for The Writing Life. Bret is a bestselling novelist. He wrote Jewel, an Oprah Book Club selection which was made into a film. His latest book is Letters & Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian (Crossway Books).

By Bret Lott
At the beginning of every semester, I read out loud Richard Brautigan’s short story “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” to my students. I do this be¬cause (1) it’s a terrific story; (2) when it comes to learning craft, I place a whole lot more stock in examining well-written work than in yammering on about the how-to of technique; and (3) this story has two of the best descriptive sentences I have ever read.

Brautigan’s writing is funny, beautiful, and strange. He was most famous for his novel Trout Fishing in America, published in 1967, for which he became a counterculture literary icon; he later committed suicide for the reasons people commit suicide: their own overruling of the gift of creation.

But this story and its remarkable voice and precision are still here and still alive.

After I read the story—it’s only four printed pages—I quiz my students, asking them which two sentences they believe are the ones I believe are among the most precise descriptions I have ever read; that is, as all good teachers are wont to do, I ask them to read my mind.

The first sentence is this: “My entrance into the thing came about this way: One day I was standing in front of my shack, eating an apple and staring at a black ragged toothache sky.”

The second is, “The novelist was in his late forties, tall, reddish, and looked as if life had given him an endless stream of two-timing girlfriends, five-day drunks and cars with bad transmissions.”

These are two of the most precise descriptive sentences I have ever encountered, not for the exactitude of their physical or tangible descriptions; in fact, you’ll find that the physical element of these descriptions may be merely and only serviceable, indeed might even be a bit vague. But I value these descriptions for their spiritual acu¬ity. What happens in these descriptions is that a kind of descriptive triangulation occurs, and by triangulation I do not here mean the sort Bill Clinton made famous in his campaigns and subsequent presidency, that surveying of every possible side to be taken and managing somehow to support every one of them. Rather, by triangulation I mean the navigation technique that uses the trigono¬metric properties of triangles to determine a location or course by means of compass bearings from two points a known distance apart.

First, Brautigan gives us descriptive elements that are a known distance apart; that is, we know what a “black” and “ragged” sky looks like (and if you don’t, you haven’t paid enough attention to the sky). But in giving us that next word, “toothache,” he allows us into the unseeable realm of description, the point to which we need to navigate; he gives us the spirit of the sky and so the spirit of the viewer, a young man eating an apple, the story tells us, who doesn’t know what he meant by living the way he did all those years ago. With this word “toothache,” we have been placed on a three-dimensional grid and know now not only exactly what the sky looks like but exactly the ache and trouble of mystery of a young man’s life.

The same quality of known distances apart holds for the first three descriptors of the novelist: “in his late forties, tall, and reddish,” The fact is that these words are, finally, quite dull, and quite vague. If you were a student of mine and used them in a story to describe a character, I would most likely write “ugh” in the margin, which is usually a sign that I think you’re not actually trying to write well. But if you were to append this last phrase—“and looked as if life had given him an endless stream of two-timing girlfriends, five-day drunks and cars with bad transmissions”—well, if you wrote that, I’d call you a genius.

Because, as with that toothache sky, we know not only what this guy looks like but also the spirit of this man. We could each of us get a police lineup in which six tall, reddish men in the forties lined up against the wall, and we would know immediately the one with the endless stream of two-timing girlfriends, five-day drunks, and cars with bad transmissions. This is because the description we have been given transcends the physical and leads us into the third dimensions of writing: that point when we leave simply seeing something and enter into knowing that something.

An Excerpt from Letters & Lie: on being a writer, on being a Christian by Bret Lott (Crossway Books, 2013). Used with Permission.

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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Follow My Current Publishing Reading

For over 20 years, I've been constantly reading about the publishing world. I'm using publishing in the broadest sense of the word to include magazines, newsletters, online publications and books. Many people just focus on books.

The world of publishing is constantly in motion with different leaders and key decision makers as well as an ever-changing way of doing things. For example, as recently as five years ago, most publishing professionals frowned and discouraged any form of self-publishing. Today this area of the market is thriving. Admittedly you have to be wise about how you self-publish. I hear the stories almost daily of people who have wasted thousands of dollars in the self-publishing area with little to show for it. Yet there are some remarkable successes in this area so it has changed.

During my day, I read in the trades. I read newsletters. I read online publications and print publications (newspapers and magazines). Often as a part of my reading process, I will look for a way to share this information to my twitter followers (yes click this link if you aren't already following me on twitter). 

The links of what I'm reading and believe is valuable appears on my twitter feed. It only takes a matter of seconds for me to pass on this information and I do it on a consistent and regular basis.

Most (but not all) of these tweets appear on my Facebook page. I have a link established that says take all of my tweets and put it on my Facebook page. Yet sometimes this doesn't work. Sometimes the connection link is broken or needs to be repaired or any number of other technical glitches. 

If you aren't reading my twitter feed, then you miss my pointing out this fresh information and insight about my learning and reading in the publishing world. Admittedly I don't point to everything—but I do tweet about a high percentage of it.

I send this information to my Twitter audience because it is continually growing. In the last week, I've passed 65,000 followers. 

If you don't have a twitter account, I encourage you to start one. I've got a free ebook called Mastering Twitter in 10 Minutes or Less. It is a little out of date but the basics remain the same. If you want to know how to grow your twitter account and maintain it (i.e. eliminate fake followers and other ineffective followers), check out this recent post or this older one (refollow is an excellent tool that I'm actively using). Or to gain more insight you can scroll down on my blog and in the right hand column I have a search tool. You can put “twitter” in the search tool and read the different articles I've written over the years about twitter. It's got loads of terrific information for you.

The world of publishing is constantly in motion and if you'd like to look over my shoulder and read what I'm reading and learning, following my twitter posts is one of the best and easiest suggestions that I can make. Follow me and I will follow you and we will have a direct connection—so you can easily send me a direct message (which I read and respond to throughout the day). 

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Some of My Advice for the Unpublished

Last month at the Write to Publish Conference at Wheaton College, I reconnected with Tammie Edington Shaw who has an excellent blog Letters Across the Page.

Tammie asked me to answer a few questions with some advice for unpublished authors. You can read my answers here. If you are not published or haven't been published much, I encourage you to read my advice but do more than read it. Follow the links in the post to other articles. Finally take action and begin to work on your publishing goals.

Learning without taking action doesn't get you where you want to go in the publishing world. You can get there and be prolific and much published but it will happen one article and one book at a time. You simply must consistently be taking action and moving forward.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Excellent Editorial Insight for Every Author

In a world with traditional publishers cutting back on editors and editing combined with the explosion of self-publishing, where "anyone" can write a book and get it into the market, Stacy Ennis has written a timely book for every writer which touts a missing detail in many books: every book needs an editor. 

In the second chapter, Ennis explains why every writer needs to read THE EDITOR'S EYE saying, "The relationship you have with an editor can be the most important element of your book-writing experience. In our ever-disconnected (or virtually over-connected) society, "relationship" seems to be the overused catchphrase plastered across billboards, websites, buses, and television commercials. But in the craft of writing and the business of publishing, the word is a perfect description for the connection between writers and editors. This relationship is the cornerstone of the writing and editing process….With that in mind, here's my formula for success: compelling and relevant story + skilled editor + good author-editor relationship = great book. It's that simple." (Page 20)

After writing more than 60 books for traditional publishers and working with hundreds of authors on their books for publishers, the wisdom of her words leaps out of every page of this book. She details the entire editorial process. And Ennis helps writers understand the importance of each type of editing--developmental, substantive (content), copyediting and proofreading. Her tips and insights into the editorial process are excellent and will help many people. For example in Chapter Five on Hiring and Working with an Editor, Ennis covers three reasons for why: 1) An editor can sharpen your writing and ideas. 2) An editor can save you time and money. 3) An editor can help you do your book right the first time.

In addition to her own insights, Ennis includes interviews with other publishing professionals in the final pages of each chapter. Finally the appendix includes several valuable forms: Manuscript Review Form, Editing Checklist, Sample Letter of Agreement and Sample Style Guide. These resources are free for the reader to download and use repeatedly as a valuable resource.

From my review, I hope it is clear that I love this book and believe it is a valuable addition to the publishing community. So why did I give it four stars and not five stars?

THE EDITOR'S EYE has a strange, ugly and unprofessional cover. Throughout my reading I wondered why take such a wonderful book and wrap it in such an unattractive package. Cover design is a key element and sells many books. The copyright page (which most people don't read) gave me the answer when it said, "Cover Design by Stacy Ennis." How ironic in a book which encourages writers to be excellent and hire outside help to produce excellence--the author designed her own cover. Thankfully most books are spine out on our bookshelves so you don't have to see it. 

I applaud Ennis and her excellent work on crafting THE EDITOR'S EYE. I believe it will be a valuable resource for many writers in the publishing world and hope it will become a classic. I recommend this book.

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